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Carbon reduction methods for steel: energy conservation, emission reduction, and technological upgrading

April 21,2023

According to data released by the China Iron and Steel Association, as of August 25, 2022, there have been 172 million tons of steel production capacity in China that have completed the entire process of ultra-low emission transformation and have passed the evaluation, testing and public announcement of the Steel Association. The main transformation project has completed nearly 400 million tons of steel production capacity, and the cumulative investment in ultra-low emission transformation of steel enterprises nationwide has exceeded 150 billion yuan. According to the calculation of 1 billion tons of steel and an average capacity utilization rate of 85%, the domestic production capacity is about 1.15 billion tons. If more than 80% of the steel production capacity is transformed into ultra-low emissions according to the "Guiding Opinions" by 2025, the industry will need to complete nearly 500 million tons of steel production capacity transformation projects by 2025, with an additional investment of not less than 150 billion yuan.

As of the end of 2020, about 4% of China's steel industry's blast furnace production capacity had energy efficiency better than the benchmark level, and about 30% had energy efficiency lower than the benchmark level; The production capacity of the converter process with energy efficiency better than the benchmark level accounts for about 6%, and the production capacity with energy efficiency lower than the benchmark level accounts for about 30%. According to the Implementation Guidelines for Energy Conservation and Carbon Reduction Transformation and Upgrading in the Steel Industry, by 2025, the proportion of production capacity above the energy efficiency benchmark level in the ironmaking and steelmaking processes in the steel industry will reach 30%, and production capacity below the energy efficiency benchmark level will be basically zero. In terms of work direction, it mainly includes two aspects: advanced technology research and promotion of mature processes. In the field of advanced technology research, the focus will be on low-carbon cutting-edge technologies such as direct reduction of by-product coke oven gas or natural gas for ironmaking, high oxygen or hydrogen rich smelting in blast furnaces, melt reduction, and hydrogen smelting, to increase the recycling and utilization of scrap steel resources. In terms of mature processes, it can be summarized into four aspects: firstly, advanced green production processes, including detailed optimization technology for long processes, green, intelligent, and efficient electric furnace short process steelmaking technology, and upgrading of advanced process equipment; The second is the cascade comprehensive utilization of waste heat and energy, which achieves the maximum recovery and utilization of waste heat and energy resources through cascade comprehensive utilization; The third is the digitization and intelligence of energy and energy efficiency management systems, promoting the innovative application of new generation information technologies such as 5G, big data, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and the Internet in energy management; The fourth is the transformation of general public and auxiliary facilities and circular low-carbon economy, strengthening energy conservation and electricity consumption while improving the utilization level of other types of resources.

According to the requirements of the "Guiding Opinions", the comprehensive energy consumption target for per ton of steel in 2025 is only to reduce by 2%, which to some extent reflects the relatively effective effect of energy conservation and emission reduction in reducing carbon emissions.

More importantly, technology is still used to promote structural transformation and quantitative reduction.


Based on the carbon reduction path mentioned above, the carbon emissions from the ferrous metal smelting and rolling processing industry account for about 40% of the total industrial emissions. According to historical data, there is a significant correlation between the year-on-year changes in crude steel production in the steel industry and the year-on-year changes in industrial carbon emissions. Meanwhile, crude steel production peaked in 2020, and in October 2021, when the cumulative year-on-year decline in crude steel began, industrial carbon emissions followed suit and began to decline year-on-year. At present, the carbon emissions of the steel industry may have reached a peak and are beginning to shift towards sustained reduction. On the one hand, in deepening the structural reform of the steel industry, if the proportion of short processes increases from 10% to 15% by 2025, nearly 50 million tons of crude steel will be converted from long processes to short processes, which will be reduced by nearly [(2.32-0.67) according to international average standards × 5000/10000]=0.825 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions. On the other hand, with the continuous promotion of energy conservation, emission reduction, and technological upgrading, from long to short processes to future full hydrogen reduction of iron, technological equipment will continue to be upgraded to promote capacity conversion and reduce carbon emissions.

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